Laptops row: Newport still has questions to answer – AM
NEWPORT council claims it never approved a joint bid for funds for a scheme that has led to thousands of school laptops being stuck in storage.
This is despite a bid for funding for the project, written by Torfaen chief education officer Mark Provis, shown to the Argus, that says Newport council was one of three authorities bidding.
Lindsay Whittle AM, who obtained the documents from the Welsh Government through the Freedom of Information Act, said the paperwork raises questions for Newport council.
The Argus reported in November that out of 8,642 laptops bought in March 2011 for Torfaen and Monmouthshire’s iLearnWales project, 2,424, worth £1 million, didn’t have an authority to go to.
Torfaen blamed Newport for withdrawing, but Newport said it had never formally committed to the scheme.
The documents, submitted in May 2010, refer to a grant bid for £9 million from the Welsh Government for the iLearnWales project and lists Newport, Monmouthshire and Torfaen as bidding authorities.
As well as buying laptops, the scheme intended to develop an integrated IT system for Wales. It was proposed that Newport contribute £1.9 million.
The Welsh Government approved the proposal in a letter written in February 2011. A Newport council spokeswoman said the council had been involved in the project and that senior officers were involved in the development of the joint submission.
She said: “Newport did not approve or agree to the joint bid being submitted by Torfaen because of concerns about the draft business case and, particularly, the funding contributions.
“Torfaen would, therefore, have proceeded with the purchase of the laptops in the full knowledge that Newport had no need for any of the laptops, that no funding was available, and that it could not give a commitment to the digital learning project.”
A Torfaen council spokesman said: “In circumstances where all parties are kept abreast of progress and expenditure through project meetings at which they play a full part at cabinet member and chief officer level, Torfaen has never in the past found it necessary to enter into binding legal contracts.”
Mr Whittle said it beggars belief that the scheme was allowed to proceed so far with no political support from Newport council.
He said the documents say the city’s chief education officer, a Newport head teacher and a council ICT expert would have sat on a management board.
“Newport council has questions to answer,” the South Wales EastAMsaid.